Garden Designers Roundtable: Horticulture/Design Idols

Garden Designers Roundtable: Horticulture/Design Idols

What did you want to be when you grew up? An astronaut? A baseball player? The President? I bet none of you chose garden designer, I know I didn’t. But here I am, happy in the profession I have chosen, and unable to picture myself doing anything else. There have been quite a few people along the way who have provided inspiration, but I’ll refrain from calling them idols, as I’d hate to place such a burden on anyone. Let’s just say the folks you are about to meet have each played an important role in shaping the person I have become.

Any discussion about me and the landscape has to start with Al Glazier. In late winter of 1981, after stocking shelves at the local supermarket had lost its appeal, I answered an ad for landscape laborers, and the rest, as they say, is history. Al ran a small nursery, and had several landscape crews that performed installations. The nursery grew mostly ericaceous plants and several needled evergreens, typical of what was being used in the industry then. It was while working here that I was introduced to botanical nomenclature, learned how to install a brick walkway, and was taught to prune, plant, and mulch. Al was a cranky, impatient man back then (with good reason as I think back on the makeup of those crews), and was quick to chew anyone out who wasn’t towing the line. But he also had a great sense of humor, and was generous with his knowledge of the industry. I loved every minute of my time working at Landscaping by Glazier, and it was during those three summers, working while home from college, that the foundation for my life in horticulture was set.

As I began to find my way in the green industry, now having struck out on my own, I discovered, and fell in love with perennials. So much more exciting than the standard fare of Rhodies and Azaleas, I began reading everything I could about these wonderful plants. My search brought me to the works of Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden, principals of Oehme van Sweden Associates. Their groundbreaking use of ornamental grasses and huge groupings of perennials captivated me. It would be many years later before I would get my hands on a copy of Bold Romantic Gardens: The New World Landscapes of Oehme and van Sweden, but it was well worth the wait. Bold Romantic Gardens is their story, of how they changed the course of landscape design in America. In the introduction, James van Sweden describes the book as “a subversive text: a chronicle of our methods for overturning outmoded approaches to landscape design and plantings, and a guide for bringing nature more fully into our lives”. Their work inspired an industry and continues to inspire me as I make my mark on the landscape. I can think of no higher complement for a garden, than to call it “bold and romantic”!

Have you ever experienced a moment, after which you knew that nothing would be the same ever again? In March of 2004, I experienced just such a moment while attending an Ecological Landscaping Association winter conference in Boxborough, Massachusetts. I had spent a considerable amount of energy reading and researching organic methods to use in the field prior to attending the conference, so it was with some confidence that I walked into the keynote presentation by a woman who was to speak about compost tea and the soil FoodWeb. The woman was Dr. Elaine Ingham, and for the next one and half hours, the entire room sat spellbound as she told of her research at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, into microbiology and the brewing of Actively Aerated Compost Tea. Her work has revolutionized the organic industry, and inspired in me a passion for using compost tea as a powerful tool in building healthy vibrant soil on our projects.

So there you have it, three (four actually) people who have inspired me to be the Hortie (horticultural person) that I am today. One who introduced me to the green industry, two who inspired the artist in me, and one who awoke my inner (soil) biologist. I’m glad these folks were around when I needed them, I hope I get to pay it forward one day.

I would love to hear about your influences, please leave me a comment! And don’t forget to visit the other members of Garden Designers Roundtable, along with our Guest this month Thomas Rainer, to find out who inspires them.

Thomas Rainer : Grounded Design : Arlington, Virginia

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT

Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA

Jenny Peterson : J Petersen Garden Design : Austin, TX

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

18 thoughts on “Garden Designers Roundtable: Horticulture/Design Idols

  1. Scott,

    Great list! I love that your list included a soils expert and a local nurseryman. Our firm is working to include Dr. Ingham’s research into our soil specifications. And I got my start in a nursery at the age of 14, so I have a soft spot for the role they play in the community. I enjoyed this!


  2. Scott, I can so relate to your post today! My own “idols” are mainly unknowns: superior teachers who taught me about ecology, biology, art, and design. I would also add – with great enthusiasm – all of the dedicated professionals in our industry (like you!) who are always willing to share their knowledge.

    1. Thank you Jocelyn, I hope you understand we belong to a mutual admiration society! 😉

      I really do value the local experts that have helped me through the years, and the professional contacts over the the last three years of social media (especially on the Roundtable), have been amazing.

  3. Scott, what a great list with fantastic range. Particularly like the point about Al Glazier and what he did for you. Those foundation stones are so important and often so unsung! I think also often appreciated more in retrospect than at the time. As for Oehme and van Sweden……

    1. Thanks Robert! I count myself lucky to have been tutored in the beginning by someone who knew what they were talking about. There are so many “professionals” out there that struggle without even knowing it. There but for the grace of…

  4. Great post…and so true…for all the fancy and famous designers we count as inspirational, in all honestly, most of us were probably most truly influenced by someone we grew up with (parent/grandparent), who instilled some love of nature/beauty in us. You are so right to inluce Oehme/van Sweden…their long-lasting contribution can’t be overstated! I’ve definiltely put that book of theirs on my Christmas “wish-list”…and yes…Bold and Romantic…isn’t that the goal for most of us…in gardening and life!

  5. I think you’ve given yourself a new nickname now–Hokie the Hortie! Ha! Your wonderful post reminds me of how influential my father was to me as a gardener–he wasn’t trained in horticulture (sometimes didn’t even know what the plants were called), but his love of plants and gardening was passed on to all 6 of his children. It’s the most basic source of inspiration that is often the deepest.

    1. Jenny that name sounds like a Muppet! You have single-handedly revived my high school/college nickname (minus the Hortie).

      It is amazing, looking back at our early influences, and finding out so many were closer to us than we thought!

  6. Scott, What an enduring look into your journey along the road to becoming a landscape designer. You are fortunate to have found the ‘idols’ you’ve needed along the way – sounds like working with Al gave you a fantastic foundation to build on.

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